How to use the Elliptical Trainer

This standard piece of exercise equipment is one of the most popular in many gyms. Ellipticals are a unique hybrid of a treadmill, stepper, bike and cross-country skier, that move your legs in an elongated oval pattern (hence the name elliptical). This low-impact machine is also easy on the knees, simple to use, and burns big calories.
  • Step onto the elliptical trainer, facing the console. You may have to start pushing the pedals to turn on the monitor.
  • Most will have a digital monitor. Follow the instructions given to either setup a pre-designed program, or start your own program. Notice where the controls for incline are located, as well as other important buttons for starting, stopping, and pausing.
  • Push the pedals in a forward motion (they also go backwards). It's easier to balance when moving forward, and backward pedaling can be hard on your knees.
  • Some machines have moving handlebars, and others have fixed handlebars. Using the handlebars will give you more of a full-body workout, but it will also take some of the emphasis away from your legs and butt. If using fixed handlebars, continue to stand up straight and avoid leaning your weight onto the handlebars or console.
  • Increase or decrease your resistance at any point, and feel free to switch between forward and backward pedaling (if your balance allows) throughout your workout.
For elliptical workout ideas, check out these SparkPeople workout programs:
Elliptical Training for Endurance
Elliptical Intervals
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Member Comments

Thanks Report
Excellent Report
Thanks for the great article! :) Report
Good article. Report
thank you Report
I'm eyeing one right now, I miss my old one! Report
I have a question. Is it better to stay on a lower level, but run faster on it, or be at a higher level, but run slower? Report
I love my elliptical machine. I use mine when I cannot go for a long walk. When the weather is bad or just to hot or cold I can sill get in a great work out without killing my knees and hips. Report
Hello! I can do 45 mins easily on my home elliptical. I use a proform elliptical with moving and stationary and moving handle bars. I don't push myself too hard or I'll quit. This is the only equipment I keep in my almost sedentary lifestyle (that im actively working on changing!) and I will slowly add other stuff to my routine as time goes by. My daily goal is to simply burn 400 calories on it. so that's about 45-1 hour for me.

@Jenn240308 - You are not alone! I get numb feet too! I haven't found any solution to this at all except pedaling back or slowing down. Report
I agree when I use equipment sp say different than the other equipment I use Report
i ove the elliptical as well, with my bad knee and all. here's the question though.

My ellipticl says I burned 184 calories
SP says I burned 304

That is a big difference. who's closer? Report
This is my main workout equipment that I use at the gym. I like using the ones without the moving bars and I always get a great workout while buring tons of calories. Report
I use the eliptical at my YMCA several times per week. It is a GREAT piece of equipment for cardio health and for burning large numbers of calories. I would suggest using your pulse meter to compare calorie burn with the number on the machine. Our precor machines are really high on the calorie count. I only burn about 61% of what the number on the machine shows. Report
I love my elliptical and was so thankful I had it after I broke my foot. Even now, almost a year later, it is still one of the few cardio exercises I can do that doesn't bother my foot.
Mine had the moving arms and although that takes some of the emphasis away from the legs, I love they way it has helped me lose weight in my upper body.

To JerseyKelley- I have some social anxiety and I am definitely a gymaphopic. I recommend calling your gym and simply saying "Hi, I'm going to come in and work out at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, do you have someone that can take a moment to show me how to use the elliptical?" That way you have someone with you the first time you get on. Or go to a fitness equipment retailer- they will gladly show you how to use one!

To SaltyChocolate- Ellipticals are sold my the length of the "stride." Most gyms are going to have an elliptical with a longer stride so that men can use it, too. I am 5'2" and purchased one with a mid-range stride so that it wouldn't be too uncomfortable to me.

Don't give up on this fabulous, low-impact piece of equipment!
I still have no idea how to use an elliptical machine - this article doesn't give enough info, I guess I'll have to try it again. My problem is with coordination - I cannot seem to work the machine. I get very confused. Don't know how to start it, am I peddling? Does that turn the machine on? And I'm supposed to work the buttons, etc., while trying to coordinate my feet? I don't think so... And with my social anxiety, the last thing I want is an entire gym of people watching me screw up. I have this awful fear of either hurting myself or doing something really dumb and clutzy on the elliptical and in doing so providing a room full of perfectly capable people entertainment by way of my humiliation. Its hard enough to get on the treadmill with the mirrorful of people's faces looking my way, getting on the elliptical is something I have way too much anxiety over. Report


About The Author

Nicole Nichols
Nicole Nichols
A certified personal trainer and fitness instructor with a bachelor's degree in health education, Nicole loves living a healthy and fit lifestyle and helping others do the same. Nicole was formerly SparkPeople's fitness expert and editor-in-chief, known on the site as "Coach Nicole." Make sure to explore more of her articles and blog posts.